Responding to the recent car-bombing of a Peshawar market, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Pakistani press, and the world, that the attacks were “cowardly,” which couldn't be further from the truth.
Just Google the phrase “cowardly act” to see how many people have no idea what “coward” even means. For example, the first three hits are links to: an article about a hit-and-run murder in Toronto, an assault on an elderly man by a teenager with a baseball bat and a man who attacked an Australian Constable with a flying head-butt to protect an elderly man from being Tasered.
With no disrespect to the victims intended, the perpetrators of these crimes are not cowards. Cowards do not look for trouble; they avoid trouble. And attacking people is trouble squared. Too much can go wrong. You could get hurt, maimed or killed. You could get caught and go to prison (the worst place on Earth for a coward). And a coward would never perpetrate a flying head-butt. Are you kidding? A coward avoids confrontation, especially with police, especially with their forehead and especially while flying through the air. It's just too risky: Will the head-butt connect incorrectly? Will my ankle twist when I land on the ground? What if I poop myself and there are no bathrooms nearby? As a part-time coward, I can tell you, delivering flying head-butts to on-duty policemen is a last resort.
I don't know why people describe these things as “cowardly.” It's almost as if they have to invent reasons to hate the offender, but, really, when a teenager beats an elderly man with a baseball bat, wouldn't calling him a “blood-thirsty, psychopathic scumbag” pretty much cover it? Is “coward” really necessary, even if it were true? That'd be like complaining that Godzilla, aside from destroying your city and killing tens of thousands, is also a bad tipper.
For some reason, people seem to confuse courage and cowardice with good and evil. But morality has nothing to do with it. The difference between courage and cowardice is the difference between action and inaction. Look at
it this way: Imagine you're a coward and you're sitting at home watching TV when you're stricken with an urge to head-butt a policeman. As a coward, you would likely tell yourself, “But I might get hurt or caught. What if I catch cold? It is pretty nippy outside. I think I'll just stay home and watch the Flying Head-Butt Channel instead.”
Another example on the Google results page of the misuse of the word “coward” came in a message-board post that asks, “Is suicide a cowardly act?”
How anyone has to ask that question just ruptures my gonads. All you have to do is imagine yourself at that last moment—shotgun barrel stuffed to the back of your mouth, finger on the trigger—to understand the ocean-load of courage it must take to commit suicide.
Some people say, “Well, suicidists are cowards for not coping with their problems.”
Bleh. Until you know what it's like to have real problems—I mean skin-melting-off-your-bones and / or screeching-demons-in-your-brain kind of problems—you can't say shit about coping. So, please, stick a staple gun in your ass and squeeze real hard if you're the type of person who maligns these poor souls as cowards.
Speaking of suicide, I remember when I noticed this phenomenon. It was right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember how (virtually) everyone seemed to be using “coward” to describe the 9-11 suicide hijackers. I remember thinking that, actually, you'd have to be pretty balls-out brave to intentionally fly a plane into a building, no matter how many celestial virgins you believed were waiting for you. As for the incident in Pakistan, yes, believe it or not, it takes courage to detonate a car bomb in a Pakistan marketplace, or, at least, a lack of cowardice.
But they were innocent people?! you might protest.
Yes, it's true, innocent, but what does that have to do with it? To understand where I'm coming from, all you have to do is recognize that “terrorist” is just another word for “soldier”—in this case, a soldier who uses a specific battle tactic in an agenda-specific war. Why is this relevant? Because scaredy-cats don't fight wars.
“They are cowards,” Clinton said to the Pakistani press. “They know they are on the losing side of history, but they are determined to take as many lives with them.” That's true, except, isn't the fact that they're losing and resorting to desperate tactics a testament to their courage, and not cowardice?
In the second-best episode of The Simpsons ever, TV news anchorman Kent Brockman mistakenly reports that giant killer ants are taking over the world. At the end of the report, he adds, “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords,” which is exactly what a coward does in the face of a hostile takeover: He welcomes the ants—something a terrorist would never do.
So why does any of this matter? It matters because language matters. It matters for the same reason honesty and truth matter. It matters because the fact that we must erroneously pad the list of reasons to hate our enemies is a symptom of the all-too-human truth of how eager we are to deceive ourselves, especially if that deception will justify our own atrocities, such as, say, the lies we told ourselves about Iraq before we bombed the all-fuck out of it. Trust me, it matters.
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